Andreas e Mattia, produced in 1996, masterfully encapsulates the crucial concerns of Cattelan’s artistic practice. On first glance, a figure – seemingly bearing the appearance of a flesh and blood, living and breathing human being – huddles pathetically in a corner, as though seeking protection from a potentially hostile world. Yet close inspection reveals that the ‘person’ is, in fact, a stuffed mannequin, made up of cloth and fabric. Torn clothing and frayed denim reveal that the model is that of a homeless man, posed with verisimilitude that manages to be both disturbing and moving in equal measure. Cattelan recalled the creation of a similar work, part of the same ‘series’ as Andreas e Mattia, noting that a ‘story’ behind each piece was of immense importance: “I like all the little stories behind the work. They make it more alive… In 1998 I did a project on the campus of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, for its institute of visual arts. The project engendered a long story, almost a novel… I decided to build a sculpture out of rags and old clothes; it was an effigy of a homeless man – Kenneth (1998). I left the poor guy near one of the campus buildings. The next morning it turns out that someone had stuck a sign on my sculpture, complaining about the tuition increase at the university. The homeless had become a kind of symbol in a struggle I knew nothing about.” (The artist cited in: Ibid., p. 13). Andreas e Mattia can thus be regarded as an unwitting element of a greater whole; part of a fable of universal significance.
Andreas raises probing questions about the nature of humanity and the concept of freedom with its brave depiction of vagrancy. Through the creation of this work and its companions, Cattelan attempted to quantify what he himself considered to be the so called ‘liberty’ of the homeless, able to wander at will around the city, free from the ‘strictures’ of home ownership and career path; on one occasion he shadowed a beggar in order to gain some knowledge of their urban lifestyle. The dejected stance of the figure seems indicative of callowness and lack of sympathy encountered on city streets, turning away from passer-by as though unwilling to encounter further rejection. Instead, a noble pride remains, encouraging self-sufficiency as a means of survival. Yet Cattelan recalls that when exhibited in Italy, Andreas e Mattia also aroused concern within onlookers who believed in the unnervingly realistic air of the piece: “Some people were upset and called the police to complain that no one was taking care of this poor, old person on the street. So they went to check on his condition and started shaking him, saying, ‘Hey, hey, wake up. It’s time to go.’ “ (The artist cited in: Ibid, p. 13). Instinctive human kindness is celebrated by extension: although the viewers are ultimately the victims of a practical joke, positive aspects of character and personality are drawn out by the presence of Andreas e Mattia on the street. Diana Kamin reinforces this idea whilst arguing for another layer of meaning to be read into the sculpture, going so far as to declare these works “avatars” that reflect the attitudes encountered by struggling artists: “The reappearance of the tramp in Cattelan’s work… suggests that the homeless are among the cast of characters that Cattelan uses to act out the narrative of the artist in society: anonymous peripatetic fixtures who are ignored until successful.” (Diana Kamin in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Salomon R.Guggenheim Museum, Maurizio Cattelan: All, 2011-2012, p. 207). These multi-faceted aspects of symbolism contribute to the immense importance of Andreas e Mattia within Cattelan’s oeuvre: quietly commanding and intensely emotive, Andreas e Mattia is truly a work of outstanding power and authority.
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